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Church of Santa Ana.
The Ring
Church of Santa Ana.

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The ring
   The search for the lost first church of Santa Anna in Barcelona. (Year 1141).
   While writing The Ring, Jorge Molist investigates the original site, unknown until now, of the church of Santa Anna, ancient headquarters of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in Catalonia.

Article published by Jorge Molist in La aventura de la historia
Revision published in Revista de arqueología


The equestrian military orders in Catalonia – Aragon.

Santa Ana   he presence of military orders in the kingdom of Aragon was consolidated  as a result of King Alfonso I’s will written in 1131, during the siege of Bayona, and he ratified it in 1134 in Sariñena, when he was already ill before entering into battle against the moors from Fraga.

   Then something unique in history happened; three military equestrian orders, the Temple, Saint Jean of the Hospital (today known as the Order of Malta) and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, became the sovereigns of a kingdom.

   But the nobility of Aragon considered such a will very inconvenient and proclaimed King Alfonso’s brother, Ramiro, called “the monk”, because this was what he really was, as King. For the sake of the kingdom, he asked for his vow of chastity to be temporarily suspended by the Pope, and he accomplished his mission by marrying Agnés de Poitiers and having a daughter, Petronella, by her. When Petronella was only a year old her father married her to Ramón Berenguer IV, the Count of Barcelona’s son, although the wedding, due to the bride’s age, was not formalized until 1150.  The union of the two noble dynasties was the result of Aragon’s need to find a way out into the Mediterranean and to get protection from Castilian expansionistic desires.

   For Ramón Berenguer, this meant becoming sovereign of Aragon under the title of Prince, and giving him indisputable command over the rest of Catalonia, not yet belonging to the dynasty of the Count of Barcelona. The power structure in Catalonia was far more complex than the one in Aragon, since the feudal links of Catalan counts with the Count of Barcelona were pacts among equals, governing thanks to a network of agreements and not by “divine right”. This was reflected in the formula used to swear fidelity to the kings: “We who are as good as you are, swear loyalty to your majesty, who is no better than we are, and we accept you as our king and sovereign, as long as you in turn respect our freedoms and laws. And if you do not do this we will not do our part either.”

   Obviously for Ramón Berenguer of Barcelona, the dominant count of Catalonia through both military power and possessions, the crown of Aragon brought him the extra power needed to consolidate his position as de facto lord of all the rest of the Catalan nobility.

   Once Ramiro the monk had accomplished his reproductive mission and provided an heir, he went back to a monastery in Huesca, keeping his title of king until his death, but allowing Ramón Berenguer to freely govern the kingdom.

   But the Count-Prince was ruling a kingdom- Aragon- that did not belong to him by law, and he did not have any other choice than to negotiate with the three military equestrian orders, owners of the kingdom through the late king’s will. So he started to swap properties and present and future rights on the lands to be conquered from the Moors in exchange for the kingdom. The discussions were very tough, especially with the Knights Templar, and although some say that he only exchanged Aragon’s properties and rights, the truth is that the big concessions of land that he gave to the Orders in Catalonia, makes it likely that he also swapped part of it in exchange for his Kingdom of Aragon.


The Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem

Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem   The Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem already had properties in Catalonia as a result of previous donations, some even previous to the first crusade, made by Catalan pilgrims returning from the Holy Land. But it was as a result of the pacts over the Kingdom’s inherence that in 1141 a group of monks led by Gerard, newly appointed Prior of the Order for Spain, formally settled in the city. Gerard, in exchange for certain benefits, signed the waiver of the Order’s rights to the crown of Aragon.

   The Order of the Holy Sepulchre was re-founded after the First Crusade, and accepted the same monastic rules as the Augustinian monks, and there is evidence of the presence in Barcelona of the Augustinians from the year 801. The first documents concerning the Holy Sepulchre community activities in Barcelona are dated 1145, and some years went by before the construction of the final church and convent.  But there is evidence of the construction by Augustinian monks of an earlier church of Santa Anna between 1141 and 1146.

   The historian Aureli Campmany in his work on Santa Anna in 1929 refers to this first church, “of which it seems that not a vestige remains.”

   Aurelio Capmany en su obra sobre santa Anna de 1929 se refiere a ésta primera iglesia afirmando: “de la cual, al parecer, no queda vestigio”


The church today

Santa Ana   The church of Santa Anna, a few meters from the popular Plaza Catalunya, has an intimate, almost clandestine, look. As a matter of fact during Napoleon’s invasion it was closed by the French, and it seems that it was used by the Catalan resistance against the invaders.

   It is a place hidden from people, and even, one might say, from time, and you get into it by crossing a little square, completely surrounded by modern buildings. It has two doors, one that opens on to Santa Anna Street and the other onto Ribadeneyra street, and both are shut during the night giving more protection and mystery to the building.

   The church is part of an old convent and still keeps part of the original buildings attached, a beautiful cloister with a garden and a chapter room.


The opinion of present-day researchers

Iglesia de Santa Ana   The Catalan Encyclopaedia refers to it in its Gothic architecture book saying that “it is a simple building with a cruciform floor and a nave headed by a rectangular apse and a transept originally without lateral chapels”  After that it continues to discuss the process of construction, and assumes that “probably in the XII century the apse of the old church was replaced by a new one thus keeping the nave,” and adds: “Santa Anna must have lacked lateral apses, and the present chapels come much later than the original XIII century construction.”

   Of the same opinion is Joan Arnau i Suriol, priest of the parish since 1987, in his extensively documented work titled “Santa Anna de Barcelona”. He says “of this part of the building ( referring to the one of the XIII century) I want to draw attention to the elements that disfigure it the most. There are the two chapels at the entrance, right and left, and the two correlatives at the bottom, after passing the transept. They are posterior elements, as is the entrance door too” (dated 1300). After that he goes on to mention the documents of the years 1169 and 1177 with donations for the building of the oldest part of the church.

   He ignores the references to the construction of the first church of Santa Anna by the Augustinian friars that Aureli Capmany mentions, probably because he did not have access to the original documents that Capmany used.


What was the original church like and where was it?

Iglesia de Santa Ana   There are many objective clues that lead me to conclude that the first and original church of Santa Anna was a simple hermitage outside the walls of Barcelona, very similar to the one that can be seen on the Spanish cover of my novel The Ring, which comes from a fragment of the altarpiece of Saint George in the Ecclesiastical Museum of Palma de Mallorca. And this hermitage was precisely where today we have the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, in the present-day churchl.

   The first element of evidence is based on pure logic. Where would Gerard’s friars have settled in their first years in Barcelona? The most probable answer is that they were taken in by friars of the same Rule, and these were the Augustinians, who at that time were building the first church of Santa Anna, which by the way was eventually given to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.  It is almost certain than the Holy Sepulchre ecclesiastics would be incorporated by the Augustinian monks. This is why the convent of the friars of the Holy Sepulchre was called Santa Anna from the very beginning, and never Holy Sepulchre. And this hypothesis is supported too by the fact that when the Knights of the equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre abandoned the convent, in the XV century, this convent reverted to the Augustinian friars.  So the original church had to have been very close to the present one, if not inside it.

Planos de Santa AnaPlanos de Santa AnaPlanos de Santa Ana
Click into images to enlarge them

   A second piece of evidence is the odd arrangement of the presbytery in Santa Anna, built in the year 1169 by the Holy Sepulchre Order. It has windows at the back and in the right wall, but not in the left one. Today only the big window raised high at the back looks out on the outside world and receives natural light, but when the presbytery was built, all the windows were exterior. Today the windows of the right wall give onto the Most Holy Chapel, and the ones at the back onto the present sacristy that was built in the XX century.

   Why didn’t they build windows in the left wall? Obviously because it didn’t give on to the outside. An earlier building was already there, and this was precisely the old church of Santa Anna that, once incorporated into the big church, would become the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre.

   Another piece of evidence is the map of the church drawn in 1859 by the architect Miguel Garriga. It is the one with the chapel market in red in the maps above that you can enlarge. Please compare with the different modern maps at left.

   Studying it, it becomes obvious that the structure of that chapel is completely different from the rest of the building. It has small presbyteries, in reality kinds of niches where the images would be lodged. Its structure was that of a small Romanesque hermitage. Its primitive construction reinforces its anteriority to the rest of the construction.

   And finally the description that Aureli Capmany makes of it in his 1929 work: “ In the construction of the church ( the new Santa Anna) you can see the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic, which is seen in its presbytery, transept and nave. The chapel called “of the Holy Sepulchre” with its very old walls, and its simple and severe forms, bears the visible seal of its venerable antiquity.

   Why does Capmany refer to the ‘venerable antiquity’ of this particular chapel alone? Was he asserting that this particular chapel was not a transitional one but pure Romanesque, and therefore previous to the rest of the building?  This is obviously so.

   But when I examined it, out of the round Romanesque ceiling , I didn’t notice any signs of antiquity greater than the ones in the transept.


The mystery of the pilgrim shells

pilgrim shells   For many years the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, called “of forgiveness”, was considered the most important one in the church. The reason was a papal bull that gave indulgences forgiving the sins of all the faithful who visited the chapel from the evening of March 16  until sunset of the following day, doing appropriate penance.  These were the so-called “Santa Anna’s Pardons”, and had the same value as the ones obtained by going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

   As a symbol of this pilgrimage, there were pilgrim shells engraved in the walls on the outside of the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre.

   I have personally searched carefully for these shells, in particular for the three that show up in photos in Aureli Capmany’s book near the outside door of the chapel, but without finding any sign of them. Nor are there any in the interior of the chapel or in any of the exterior walls.

   Once I was over the initial surprise, I found a simple explanation. In the fire of 1936, the old chapel “of forgiveness” collapsed, leaving the walls in very bad condition. The posterior reconstruction in the forties, with only a small budget since the country had just finished a civil war, was designed more to repair the church enough for religious services than to rigorously reconstruct it. Some original elements were lost in this reconstruction, including the shells.

   If we compare the detailed 1859 plans of the church with the present ones, we can see that while nearly all the elements coincide exactly, only in the drawing of the walls of this chapel do significant differences show up. Since the construction of the original Augustinian church isn’t documented, but is only referred to vaguely, modern researchers have concluded, looking at the present construction of the chapel, that it is a later addition to the original building.

   On the other hand, there are not any documents either on the construction of the “forgiveness chapel”- Holy Sepulchre chapel, while all the elements of the church posterior to the first building of the church are fully documented.
   This is additional evidence that proves that the present Holy Sepulchre chapel, dedicated from the beginning to Santa Anna, was in reality the first of the churches of Santa Anna.

   Although my novel The Ring is fiction, some of the elements in it are the result of very careful research.


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